Book Bag: “Ware’s Boys of Summer” by Stephen Robert Katz; “Danger Under Ground” by Dusty Miller

Monday, June 05, 2017

by Steve Pfarrer


By Stephen Robert Katz

Dog Ear Publishing


Today, Major League Baseball tends to draw many of its players from sun-washed places like California, Arizona, Texas, Florida and the Dominican Republic, given the warm weather there allows for lots of practice time.

But over 250 players born in Massachusetts have made it to the majors since the late 1800s, according to baseball-almanac.com. That number includes several from western Massachusetts in the last 60-odd years (oddly, many were relief pitchers): Stu Miller (Northampton), Mark Wohlers (Holyoke), Jeff Reardon (Dalton), Turk Wendell (Pittsfield) and Ron Villone (UMass Amherst).

And how about Ware? They may not be household names, but seven players from the Hampshire County town made it to the bigs, and Stephen Katz tells their stories in “Ware’s Boys of Summer.” 

Katz, a Ware native and retired lawyer and law professor who now lives in New York, is a lifelong baseball fan, and he begins his account with some basic baseball history, focusing on earlier versions of the game that were played in Ware and other New England towns in the 19th century.

Perhaps the most notable Ware player was Candy Cummings, born in 1848 and elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939. He’s considered the creator of the curveball, a pitch he experimented with after watching how sea shells curved when thrown. While playing with the Brooklyn Excelsiors in 1867, at a game in Boston, he uncorked the pitch for the first time, and the batter swung and missed badly.

“A surge of joy flooded over me that I shall never forget,” Cummings later wrote. “I felt like shouting out that I had made a ball curve.”

Pat McCauley, a catcher born in Ware in 1870, had the distinction of catching one of baseball’s most famous spitball pitchers, Jack Chesbro (a native of North Adams), in the early 1900s. And Joe “Peco” Giard (born in 1898) and Johnny Grabowski (born in 1900) were both members of the famous 1927 New York Yankees (think Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig).

More recently, Billy Jo Robidoux broke nearly every batting record at Ware High School in the early 1980s before going on to become an excellent minor league hitter, though he never hit quite as well in the majors.

But Robidoux did get to finish his big league career with his beloved hometown team, the Boston Red Sox, in 1990, Katz writes, and he remained a “kid from a small town who had big dreams, chased them and couldn’t wait to get back home.”



By Dusty J. Miller

Levellers Press


Belchertown author Dusty J. Miller has had great fun with her two previous books, “Danger in the Air” and “Danger at the Gates,” which both feature a central character, Alice Ott, who’s strongly modeled on longtime social and political activist Frances Crowe of Northampton.

These part-thrillers, part send-up of thrillers, had Alice, an elderly cyber-sleuth in western Massachusetts, joining a number of other unusual characters as they investigated a secret Maryland lab producing biological weapons and then a leaky nuclear power plant in Vermont (a stand-in for the now-closed Vermont Yankee nuclear plant near Brattleboro).

Miller’s newest installment in the series, “Danger Under Ground,” begins on an ominous note: Alice, her trusty oxygen tank in tow, is menaced in the parking lot of her local grocery store. A strange man tells her she and her friends better cease their protests against a proposed natural gas pipeline in the region — or else.

Things quickly get worse when the wife of Frank Hastings, a doctor leading the pipeline protest movement, disappears. Alice and her friends suspect Global Energies Technologies, the ruthless corporation trying to muscle the fracked gasline through Franklin County’s forests and farms, is behind what appears to be a kidnapping.

But why does Dr. Hastings seem to want to cover up his wife’s disappearance and keep the police at bay? The plot becomes even murkier when the FBI is called in and Alice’s young friend and fellow activist, RubyStarr, becomes the prime suspect.

It’s soon shaping up to be the toughest case yet for Alice, her longtime French lover, Gerard, and her other friends and fellow activists.

Dusty J. Miller reads from “Danger Under Ground” on June 13 at 7 p.m. at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.